In Response: Lignite another nail in our environment's coffin
In his March 29 op-ed in the News Tribune, lignite salesman Jason Bohrer, like all well-funded carbon-industry reps who put profit before planet, tried to elevate his industry's image by smearing green lipstick on a dirty lignite pig.
(Bohrer is president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council, a regional trade association supporting the lignite coal industry and its partners. His commentary was headlined, "Lignite coal can help meet carbon-free goals.")
The caloric content of lignite is just half that of bituminous (soft) coal and even less than that of anthracite. Therefore, to get the same amount of energy, at least twice as much lignite has to be mined and burned, which produces even more carbon dioxide than burning higher grades of coal, which we are trying to eliminate because of its toxic ashes and deadly emissions. Lignite is also high in sulfur and moisture, which further lowers its efficiency.
Nevertheless, lignite companies, their councils and other supporters, often with state assistance, continue to aggressively promote lignite despite its many defects.
Because of Germany's colossally stupid partial closure of its emission-free nuclear plants in response to Fukushima, 46 percent of its electricity now comes from environment-damaging biomass and coal, half of which is high-sulfur lignite. There, real environmentalists are beginning to take action, prompted in part by Germans paying at least twice as much for electricity than heavily nuclear France, and because Germany's carbon emissions are soaring.
Now, with its industries hurting, the Merkel government has begun to rethink nuclear power. While it debates, Germany continues to burn lignite, the dirty runt of the coal family — and a fitting partner to Enbridge's equally environment-damaging tar sands oil complex.
Since the start of the industrial revolution, we have added 1.8 trillion tons of non-natural carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. One-third of that already has been absorbed by the oceans, making them increasingly acidic. According to oceanographers, any further increase in acidity could cause the death of the oceans that provide 20 percent of our protein and 50 percent of our oxygen. This would repeat the pre-Cambrian extinction in which 90 percent of ocean life died some 250 million years ago.
With 1.2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide still waiting to be absorbed by our imperiled oceans, one would think we would be replacing the carbon burners at all of our power plants with modern, super-safe, carbon dioxide-free nuclear reactors that cannot melt down and can consume 90 percent of our stored nuclear waste as fuel.
However, instead of proceeding sanely, we are adding 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere every year by burning coal, lignite, oil, and natural gas to generate electricity the sellers of inefficient, environment-damaging wind and solar farms "promote" but fail to provide.
While we search for more oil and natural gas, we are ignoring that our fracking wells and pipelines are leaking enough methane, which is 80 times worse than carbon dioxide, to negate the gains made by cutting back on coal.
And we are now advised by Bohrer and others to further damage our atmosphere and oceans by burning more lignite.
I feel compelled to ask the lignite-sellers, who apparently prefer greenbacks over green planets, the same penetrating question asked of disgraced Sen. Joe McCarthy by attorney Joseph Welch some 65 years ago: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
George Erickson of Eveleth is a member of the National Center for Science Education and the Thorium Energy Alliance. For a free, updated PDF copy of his book, "Unintended Consequences: The Lie that Killed Millions and Accelerated Climate Change," email Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org or download it at tundracub.com. Email Erickson, too, for a presentation on climate change and energy issues. He also can be reached at (218) 744-2003.